Old Lyric is an exclusive store in Shanghai focused on the selection of unique designers’ archive pieces. We met the creative director and co-founder Kian Zhang to discover more about his nostalgic yet pioneering retail project.
Kian, Which are the reasons that pushed you to open Old Lyric?
I had the idea of opening a boutique like this several years ago. My girlfriend Zephy and I have always been familiar with the designers we have at Old Lyric, and we’ve seen their early archive exhibitions in London and Tokyo. Despite the fact that they were smallscale exhibitions and photography was not allowed, they were really popular among the experts. At the beginning, when I discovered those incredible garments I was completely astonished, I wanted to collect them all and I waited for the right timing to come. Last September we felt we were ready and we opened Old Lyric, with the aim to present garments made by revolutionary fashion masters during peak periods of their careers.
How would you define the Old Lyric’s concept?
Old Lyric is the first boutique which embraces the idea of sharing the best designer archive pieces, serving as a window that introduces timeless fashion classics to the Shanghai public. Unlike the regular vintage luxury shops, we want to showcase the Eastern nuances of fashion design, focusing only on our favorite creators such as Comme des Garçons, Dries Van Noten, Yohji Yamamoto, and Issey Miyake.
How does the research and collection of the pieces work?
Zephy and I work on this together. We constantly read a lot of books about designers, fashion photography and art: these lectures help us to understand the stories behind the garments and find some precious, meaningful pieces. That’s very important to us.
How do you select the pieces? What are the first things you look at while selecting them?
Our exclusive selection is always made of the most perfectly preserved pieces we are able to find, which often are amongst the most innovative and rare designs in fashion history. Each piece represents the most pioneering and experimental style of its time.
Are you proposing a certain esthetic? If yes, how would you describe it?
Old Lyric is filtered through our tastes. There is an esthetic ideal which is always present and expresses what we think is timeless and elegant, hoping that the other people will appreciate it as much as we do.
What do the words “unique” and “rare” mean to you?
I love these two words. Basically, all we have at Old Lyric is “unique” and “rare”. Applied to fashion, I think they mean conceptually interesting pieces with a certain artistic and historical value which are hard to find on the general market.
Your selection is highly focused on Japanese designers, what fascinates you in the works of those creators?
I have the utmost admiration for Yohji Yamamoto for his longevity and his innovative spirit, which makes him able to presents every season strong and challenging collections. He’s a true visionary. I also like Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake for similar reasons. They all broke the boundary between the Eastern and Western fashion world. Their work always inspired me a lot.
Is there any reason why you manly focus on women’s fashion?
Actually we also collect several menswear pieces. Men’s clothes make up the 30% of the store selection, while women’s make up the 70%. Old Lyric designers’ brands have high standards in terms of fitting, so it is quite common to see masculine silhouettes tailored for women’s clothes. Many of our clients purchase both men’s and women’s clothes.
Explain what is for you the relationship between time and garments.
I think the value of good design is not dictated by time.
It overcomes it.
Among the pieces you have at the store is there anyone you cerish the most? If yes, which are the reasons why?
We choose every piece we have in the store by ourselves, so we love them all. But if I have to pick one collection, it will be the Yohji Yamamoto AW 1995: the mysterious traveller finds her roots in Mittle Europa, romantic black capes and coats worn inside out revealing the beauty of the inner surface. It’s definitely my favorite collection of my favorite designer ever.
Is there any specific garment or collection that you currently don’t have at the store but you are madly looking for it?
I have always been a big fan of Raf Simons, especially of his early works. I personally collected few pieces from his 2002 / 2003 collections, and I would love to have more, together with some early Undercover collections, like GuruGuru and But beautiful I and II. Zephy is dying for the kimonocoat from Yohji Yamamoto AW 1994 and SS 1995.
Shanghai is a very complex and multilayered city. Since your opening which kind of reaction are you having from consumers?
We started the business less than eight months ago, so our clientele is still unstable at the moment. But overall, Old Lyric’s typical clients are professionals in the fashion and art industries, or fans of the fashion designers whose garments we carry. We are glad to see more and more people which are well educated in fashion become our consumers.
You seem to own a rich and accurate archive on the designers’ you have at the store. As a retailer, how important is to penetrate inside the world and the history of the creators?
All these informations are rare, and we’ve been collecting for years. Through our carefully curated inventory, we aspire to create a space where one can discover the things that make certain garments timeless works of art. We will share more precious contents from our books in the near future. Zephy usually scans the pages and then do the color correction and editing. We hope to offer an unique insight on the designers we love through our selection of texts, pictures and clothes.
How does all this material help customers to understand and enrich the pieces’ story?
Every beautiful garment has an interesting story to tell, and it is our pleasure to share it with everyone who’s interested in it. By running a boutique like Old Lyric, I want to offer to our clients not only our precious archive collections, but also detailed descriptions based on our expertise. You can probably read these informations in a museum, but museums’ collections usually focus on eyecatching and exaggerated styles, such as dramatic volume skirts. Videos and images from designers’ earlier days are rare. Our purpose is to highlight the history of designers and their more practical and less dramatic pieces which reveal their true creative spirit. For example, Yohji Yamamoto is known for his black garments, but very few people know he always has designed clothing in a wide variety of colors.
More than making simple sales, Old Lyric seems to offer to customers a real experience which goes beyond the simple act of consumption. How do you work to create such an experience? How the space and its atmosphere does contribute to it?
We used brushed concrete walls and dangling filament bulbs to create a gallery-like feeling softened by chaise longues, coffee tables artfully laden with fashion tomes and runway music from early collections. We made all the interior design and made sure the space and display of the boutique was serene and poetic, allowing each client to have a quiet and relaxed shopping experience.
Would you ever “export” the Old Lyric’s project to another city?
Old Lyric is not a commercial project, we want to keep the size and make sure it is special, so it won’t become a big chain store in China. But it would be possible to open some popup stores and hold some exhibitions in other cities, letting more people discover the beauty of our archive pieces.
Which are your plans for the future?
We are preparing a new project, but I want to keep it as a secret.